Monday, February 27, 2006

Hoodwinked = the end of feature animation?

When 'Hoodwinked' had a decent January opening last month, some of the animators at work came in that Monday with reactions of "There go our jobs!" The conventional wisdom was that if a movie that cost a few million to make, with animation that could barely pass as animatics at a major feature studio, could do reasonably well at the box office, then the big producers would likely soon dump all of us pampered, overpaid bums, and ship future features overseas. The logic went that if a film that cost somewhere less than $10 million could make $50 million at the box office, then our $70-100 million productions were doomed. Well, not quite. 'Hoodwinked' had a fat marketing budget (my impression was that it got far more advertising than did 'Curse of the Were-Rabbit'), probably well north of $25 million. Add in the cost of redubbing the film with big name actors, of prints and distribution, then take away the theater owners 50% of the gross, and it becomes apparent that while 'Hoodwinked' did pretty well, it likely won't break into the black till it hits DVD. Still, it's a success, for what it is -- a tiny, independently made animated film. Compare all that to 'Shrek 2' ($920 million worldwide b.o.), 'Finding Nemo' ($865 mil.), 'The Incredibles' ($631), or 'Madagascar' ($528). 'Robots' (down at #13 on the CG box office list) was far more modest, yet still had a ww b.o. of $261 million, and 'Chicken Little' will blow past the $300 million mark this week. The question is, which would a studio prefer: ten 'Hoodwinks' or one 'Madagascar'? The total box office is about the same, and ten Hoodwinks likely cost less than a single 'Madagascar' to produce. But don't be fooled. The big studios don't want to bunt for singles -- they want bases-loaded home runs. The profit from a single blockbuster far exceeds the money generated by multiple marginal hits, no matter how much cheaper the latter. The big budget animated films are safe, at least until they start consistently tanking. Now, what 'Hoodwinked' does mean is that some of the talented folks among us may have an easier time getting a few fist fulls of funding to make their own indie animated films. Now that would be cool.


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